Autograph books

While the autograph is now thought of as a hastily scrawled celebrity signature, autograph books were once a treasured item which collected illustrations, poems and personal messages from friends and loved ones. Sir George Grey Special Collections is home to a number of these cherished albums. These books contain amazing images and messages that provide an insight into friendship groups and communities.

Rose Riddiford’s album features a short refrain from ‘Auntie Rose’ which goes some way to indicating the sentimental value these albums would hold and how they reflect the owner’s friendships:

Your album is a garden plot, 

Where all kind friends sow seeds, 

I plant the sweet forget-me-not, 

Please keep it free from weeds

Harriet Gill’s book is filled with what appear to be ink blot drawings of pigs – although in this case Robert J. Coates has indicated that “[his ink blot] is a sheep, not a pig.” This irreverent style sees ‘pigs’ of all shapes and sizes accompanying friends’ signatures and dates. Why Harriet chose this concept for her album remains a mystery.

A light-hearted tone is a key feature of many of the inscriptions. This short rhyme sees the autographer bring together the written word alongside small drawing of a pig to fill their page:

The lightning flashed,

The thunder crashed,

Heaven & Earth were shaken.

The little pig curled up his tail,

And ran to save his bacon.

Illustrations also make up a key part of autograph books, either alone or alongside a written passage. H Wilmot Hare’s album features a wide variety of illustrations, reflecting the different styles of those who were selected to contribute to the book.

Autographs feature across scrapbooks and other treasured belongings, but the autograph book concentrates this to a personal keepsake which friends pour their creativity, humour and heartfelt feelings into. As collection items they provide a fascinating insight into the friendships and communities that surround each book and a snapshot of those relationships.

For more on autograph albums see: